Sitting alone in my car at 1:00 A. M. in the deserted hospital parking garage, the doctor's words about my father's near fatal condition echoed in my skull: "He's not responding to the medicine. He needs to be kept as comfortable as possible." My father's congestive heart failure was causing him to fill with fluid, drowning him under his skin, each added ounce causing his heart to run out of steam, like wheels slipping in place. The doctor's countenance, his forced half-smile, his hushed tones in his speech trying to comfort us all added up to his assuredness of my father's demise. The night was going to be long. And so I did what everyone else does in the grips of foxhole faith, I called out to God. "Please, give me something, anything to let me know that he's going to be okay," I said, my head down and my hands on the steering wheel, squeezing so tightly as though I were forcing God to listen.
When my heart slowed and I could see again, I turned the engine on, rolled down the windows to let the summer air in, and from the radio speakers began the first electric chords of The Beatles' song "It's Getting Better All the Time." Anyone who knows me well knows that I am Beatles fan, as in the "fan" in fanatic. And it is that fanaticism that has kept me well attuned to what popular Beatles songs are played on the radio. "It's Getting Better All the Time" is not one of those songs. It gets very little play in comparison to the dozens of other hits they had: Hey Jude, Let It Be, Strawberry Fields Forever, et. al. So because it was this song at this moment, I knew one thing for certain-God was speaking to me. He was picking a language I would understand. It seemed a little heavy handed; I thought God was a little more cryptic, but I wasn't about to argue. I drove home and slept, peacefully, knowing that this wasn't the end.
The pastor at my church once said that faith is the opposite of our instincts. We must see something to believe it, yet for faith we must first believe, then we will see it. That's pretty tough for so many of us, the belief in things unseen. So I know that there are those who say that God's talking to me through The Beatles is a pretty broad leap. Still, sitting in that car, I experienced that X factor, that absolute rightness stemming from a total lack of rationality. And that was fine by me.
Arriving at the hospital the next morning, my sister was already in the ICU. There was an energy in the room that was palpable, a surging charge. My sister rushed to me, spouting, "The doctor said in the night Dad just suddenly began responding. Fluid was draining out in healthy quantities." However, the doctor later added that there were too many factors beyond just being 79 for Dad to recover and live beyond Christmas. We were convinced otherwise.
After a cafeteria buffet breakfast, my sister and I sat on a lobby bench to process the morning. Reticently, I recanted details that unfolded nine hours earlier. When I reached the crux of the moment, telling her how I deduced that God had picked a language to speak to me, cleverly employing a Beatles song as some sort of divine conduit, her head was tipped to one side and her eyes were piercing into my face. "Stop!" she demanded. And then she recanted the details of her morning.
After driving home from the hospital, she pulled into her driveway, turned off her van, and sat there, not yet allowing herself to go inside. In the pounding silence of the early morning, she called out to God as I had, "Please, give me something, anything to let me know that he's going to be okay." As her van began to warm up, and not ready to walk, my sister started the engine for the cool air of the air conditioner. Her radio had been on when she had stopped, so after the engine turned over, a song was beginning. The words began to bore through the stratum of her prayer. It was Bob Dylan, telling her, "Don't think twice; it's alright." As she listened, a comforting peace began to gently knead her. When the song was done, she cut the engine, went inside, and slept.
My sister and I were of the same mind, thinking that God's media were not that conspicuous. But why not? Why can't God just chuck a brick at our heads when He wants a quick communiqué? And so we sat there, gaping at one another, just as affirmed as we were spooked.
A year later, at my father's 80th birthday celebration, Louis Armstrong crooned What a Wonderful World, to which my father, or the "miracle man" as one doctor called him, and stepmother danced, smiling, breathing with clear lungs. I wouldn't have seen it if I hadn't believed it.